It’s hard to quantify the exact influence of Mad Max and The Road Warrior. Not only did the films create the template for post-apocalyptic wasteland cinema, they massively influenced a visual style that transcends the narrow confines of the dystopian wasteland, from pro wrestling to rap videos. Of course, the films did give us Mel Gibson, but nobody’s perfect. Ever since the last Mad Max film, the universally despised Beyond Thunderdome, George Miller, the creator and director of the Mad Max films, hasn’t stayed within the action genre. His last three films were Babe: Pig in the City, Happy Feet, and Happy Feet Two. Though Miller was unable to get his film version of Justice League off the ground (it was cancelled just before going into production in 2007), he has finally returned to the action genre by reviving his iconic character in Mad Max: Fury Road, which sees Tom Hardy taking over the titular character of Max Rockatansky from Mel Gibson. Mad Max: Fury Road is an action film that raises the bar on vehicular mayhem on the silver screen, a masterpiece of motorized mayhem.
The film opens with Max secluded in the wasteland, haunted by the ghosts of the people he couldn’t save. He’s soon kidnapped by a roving gang who transport him to the Citadel, a society built within a mountain. The Citadel is run by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), who controls the water and fuel supply for the lower classes dependent on him for survival. As Max is held prisoner to provide blood for one of Immortan Joe’s disciples, Nux (Nicholas Hoult), Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) is leading a supply run to another settlement not far from the Citadel. But Furiosa isn’t making the planned run. Instead she’s smuggling out Immortan Joe’s wives (Zoë Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, and Courtney Eaton) hoping to take them to a sanctuary Furiosa had seen in her youth. When Immortan Joe’s goons notice Furiosa’s change in direction, they rally their forces to stop Furiousa and recapture the wives. Max is reluctantly pulled into action, bound to Nux’s car like a hood ornament. Eventually, Max is able to break free of the chains that bind him to Nux and enters into a tenuous partnership with Furiosa. Now they must evade the deranged forces on their tail and fight for their own survival.
Let’s just get this part out of the way: Yes, Fury Road is an unabashed feminist blockbuster. The story is about a group of women fighting for control over their own lives. These are women who must try and flee the patriarchal society that seeks to control their bodies before turning around and confronting it. There are no rape scenes in the film, thankfully, but the sexual violation of the wives of more than just implied and adds an extra feeling of dread when the ghoulish bad guys get closer. And Fury Road doesn’t lose an ounce of badassery because of its multiple feminine fighters. As a matter of fact, it makes the film even more badass. The film’s story is about standing up and challenging societal norms, and the film itself does that. Charlize Theron’s Furiosa is an all-time cinematic badass, ranking up there in the pantheon of the great action women like Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley. But Furiosa’s ass kicking doesn’t diminish the character of Max. His story arc is intrinsically tied to Furiosa’s mission, a story of redemption dependent on cooperation. If a bunch of sub-moronic Men’s Rights Activists want to pass on Fury Road due it supposed feminist propaganda, it’s their loss as they’ll be missing a film that honestly would pummel anything by a testosterone-fueled, muscle-bound meathead, or anything by Michael Bay. Same difference, I guess.
Mad Max: Fury Road is also a triumph of cinematic artistry. Every aspect of the production design – the sets, costumes, and customized cars – are eye-popping in their originality. It’s not steampunk or dieselpunk or whatever the hell they wanna call it these days – this is its own rusty aesthetic. And the artistry of the visual language that George Miller and cinematographer John Seale employ works in chaotic harmony with the thumping soundtrack and the amazing practical stunt work of the drivers and other assorted acrobats. From start to finish, the film is a visual feast of insane spectacle and intricate design.
Along with co-writers Brendan McCarthy and Nick Lathouris, George Miller isn’t concerned with making Fury Road a film with an overtly complex plot. It’s all streamlined to keep the action barreling forward, the next big chase is always lingering around the corner. They also don’t allow the film to get bogged down with expository dialogue. There’s a religion that has sprouted around the villainous Immortan Joe, though details of this theology are sprinkled throughout the film nobody stops the film to explain the nature of the belief system. I can’t help but love that the film embraces elements of ambiguity in favor a tighter-paced whole. If you were doubting whether or not this is a legitmate Mad Max film, some characters are named Rictus Eructs, Toast the Knowing, The Splendid Angharad, and so on.
In any other year, the cars parachuting from an airplane onto a mountain in Furious 7 would’ve been the cinematic high watermark for automobiles crashing around on the screen. Yet the entirety of Mad Max: Fury Road makes that scene (which is still really impressive) and makes it look like a child playing with Hot Wheels. With Tom Hardy playing a subtler Max than Mel Gibson and Charlize Theron just kicking all kinds of ass, George Miller has brought Mad Max back to screen bigger and better than before. Mad Max: Fury Road is a remarkably thoughtful ballet of bombast, a striking example of pure cinema utilizing every little aspect of the movie for maximum effect. For those MRAs that are boycotting the movie, it’ll just be the most recent example in a long line of bad decisions.